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San Antonio travelblog: Trying to interview Gregg Popovich

Gregg Popovich. (AP Photo)
Gregg Popovich. (AP Photo)

Gregg Popovich is my favorite NBA coach to interview. Not because he’s the easiest. Because he’s the hardest.

Popovich has no tolerance for mediocre questions, as you know from the in-game interviews on TNT and ESPN. Sometimes, Pop doesn’t have tolerance for good questions. But when you get a good response from Popovich, you know you’ve earned your keep.

In pregame on Saturday, I asked Popovich two questions. Something about rotations, and whether he has an idea before the game how he’ll substitute or is it an in-game feel. He gave me a terse, but decent, answer, that it’s in-game, though he has a general idea who will play. I also asked him if 7-foot-3 Boban Marjanovic’s success in frustrating Enes Kanter at times this season — and Kanter’s general struggles against really tall centers — would make the Serbian a good weapon in this series. Popovich slightly chuckled and said something along the lines of, “Let’s put it this way. It wasn’t a big part of our preparation.”

But Sunday, I got the full brunt of Popovich’s ways.

I drove out to Spurs practice Sunday morning. The media horde got to talk to Tony Parker, who is pretty good; and Danny Green, who is really good; and Manu Ginobili, who is world class. David West came over, too, but I had to scram and make it to Thunder practice.

But before the Spur players talked, Popovich addressed the media. Here’s the full transcript of the interview, and I’ve bold-faced my questions.

After watching the film, did anything stand out to you?

Pop: “Yes.”

Was the performance better or worse from an execution standpoint after watching the film? Were you more impressed?

Pop: “I try not to get impressed. I just try to look at what I see. Basketball’s a game of mistakes, so we’re doing the same thing they’re doing. We can each do things better. That’s what it’s all about.”

Does the defensive flexibility Kawhi provides help especially against the Thunder, with two players like Durant and Westbrook?

Pop: “Kawhi guards different people no matter who we’ve played all year long.”

How impressed have you been with Danny’s defense?

Pop: “Danny’s done a good job.”

When LaMarcus is matched up with different personnel, are there things built into the game plan to take advantage of his talents, or is that left up to Aldridge?

Pop: “LaMarcus has been around for a long time. I don’t screw with him too much. Wouldn’t be smart.  He knows way better what to do than I could ever tell him.”

I counted 10 open shots that Aldridge made, but that still leaves eight made under pressure. Was Aldridge’s scoring under pressure, discounting his open jumpers, a sign of his offensive dominance?

Pop: “It’s hard not to say that LaMarcus had a very good game.”

Where did Green improve?

Pop: “He’s a better defensive player.”

Does Green’s flexibility on defense help you use Leonard’s flexibility even more?

Pop: “You’re getting way too complicated for me. You need to go get a coaching job.”

Did Westbrook get to his spots and just missed at the rim?

Pop: “I didn’t give it any thought.”

Were you happy…

Then the guy stopped. He knew he had started down the wrong road. Everybody laughed, including Popovich, as he walked off.

 

SPURS HEADQUARTERS

The Spurs headquarters is on the north side of town, not too far from downtown. Similar, I suppose, to the Thunder headquarters’ relationship to OKC’s downtown, except the Spurs are about two miles off the freeway.

The Spurs’ facility is a modern-architecture building, much like the Thunder’s, with what appears to be many of the same amenities the Thunder has. The media enters through a side door, just like in OKC, and waits in a press room before entering the gym, same as in OKC.

The Spurs operate similar to the Thunder. Requested players are brought over, one at a time, to be interviewed. The Spurs try to watch out for their stars, same as the Thunder. Tim Duncan talked after the game Saturday night, so he was promised the day off from media on Sunday. All players are supposed to be available, but the truth is, Duncan is no great talker. No reason for anyone to really want to talk to him.

Playoff teams are required to separate their media times so that people can get to both squads on the same day. The Spurs were scheduled to talk around 11 a.m. but didn’t start until about 11:40. I bolted about 12:05, because the Thunder was scheduled for 12:15. I zipped down to the AT&T Center quickly, in about 15 minutes — on the way listening to Fox Sports radio called the Thunder “Oklahoma” — and made it with plenty of time to spare.

There were more media at the Thunder than the Spurs. The Spurs have a reputation of being boring, although I could listen to the great Ginobili read the phonebook. In fact, he was asked one question in Spanish, he answered in Spanish and I thought it still was more interesting than anyone on the Thunder but Steven Adams.

 

BAD BARBEQUE

For lunch, we stopped by Bill Miller’s Bar-B-Q. There are Bill Miller’s all over San Antonio. I passed three just driving to the Spurs practice, including the headquarters right across the street from our hotel.

The Bill Miller’s across the street is the company headquarters and commissary and bakery. You can smell the barbeque at all hours, and it’s a great aroma — does barbeque ever smell bad? — and put me in the mood for barbeque.

But lunch was not good. Everyone else liked it OK — Erik had a sausage platter, A.C. had chicken strips and Bryan had a salad. But I ordered the chopped beef sandwich special. Two chopped beef sandwiches, fries and a drink for $5 something. And it was overpriced.

The chopped beef was more like sloppy Joes, except not as good as sloppy Joes. Sort of what I imagine prison food would be like.

The meal was saved by A.C. Slater, who got gravy with his chicken. He didn’t want the gravy, so I dipped my fries into the gravy. Pretty good.

The afternoon was spent working. I transcribed the interviews, organized a Ginobili Q&A for the paper, had trouble with the internet that put me behind an hour or so, wrote a few journal items and shipped them to Erik, and finally wrote my column.

About 8:30 p.m., we went to dinner and got A.C. his Pappadeaux fix that had been denied Friday. I’ve written enough about Pappadeaux. But it was good, as always. Mixed seafood grill and a Greek salad. Walked over to the bar and watched the end of the Indiana-Toronto game.

The NBA games hadn’t kept my attention Sunday. Miami and Golden State won in routs. But Raptors-Pacers was worth watching.

We went back to the hotel. I crashed with the TV on — seems like this “Game of Thrones” needs a roster — and thought about what questions I would ask Popovich on Monday.

Related Photos
Gregg Popovich. (AP Photo)

Gregg Popovich. (AP Photo)

<figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-0535b55e472d1649ea7b395ce0859766.jpg" alt="Photo - Gregg Popovich. (AP Photo)" title="Gregg Popovich. (AP Photo)"><figcaption>Gregg Popovich. (AP Photo)</figcaption></figure>
Berry Tramel

Berry Tramel, a lifelong Oklahoman, sports fan and newspaper reader, joined The Oklahoman in 1991 and has served as beat writer, assistant sports editor, sports editor and columnist. Tramel grew up reading four daily newspapers — The Oklahoman,... Read more ›

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